‘Hunger Games’ Director Gary Ross Talks Casting Jennifer Lawrence

Published 4 years ago by , Updated August 19th, 2013 at 1:24 pm,

For several months we’ve covered The Hunger Games adaptation casting rumor mill – with Director Garry Ross (Seabiscuit) finally selecting the Academy Award nominated actress, and X-Men: First Class alum, Jennifer Lawrence as the teenage warrior Katniss Everdeen.

When Lionsgate Entertainment officially confirmed Lawrence had been cast as Everdeen, loyal fans of The Hunger Games series took to the Internet in frustration. Now, Ross is speaking out in order to address some of the concerns.

For anyone unfamiliar with The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen is a sixteen-year old living in a post-apocalyptic county Panem (which used to be the United States). Instead of a democracy, Panem is comprised of twelve impoverished districts which are ruled by a wealthy central city/government the Capitol. As punishment for a prior rebellion the Capitol established the Hunger Games, a televised event that forces each district to send one boy and one girl to fight to the death – against similarly selected youth from other districts each year. When her sister, Primrose, is selected for the games, Katniss volunteers to take her place.

In response to the mounting fan-frustration generated by the news that Jennifer Lawrence would be portraying Katniss, Ross spoke with Entertainment Weekly to shed some light on why he chose the Winter’s Bone actress – confirming that Hunger Games’ author Suzanne Collins approved of the choice:

“First, I saw Winter’s Bone, and I just thought she was phenomenally talented and just kind of riveting and amazing and had so much power. And then we had a meeting and I found her to be just a completely compelling, intelligent person. But then she came in and read for me and it just knocked me out. I don’t want to go into too many details, but we did a scene from the movie and it was so amazingly powerful that it was sort of stunning. You glimpsed every aspect of the role and the potential of the whole movie.”

The primary, and by far the most valid, concern raised by fans is the undeniable fact that Jennifer Lawrence is several years older than Katniss in the novels (Lawrence is 20). Kick-Ass star Chloe Moretz had often been rumored as a potential front-runner for Everdeen – as the actress a) is only fourteen years old and b) had previously displayed a remarkable commitment to both the charm and brutality of Hit Girl – a balance that would be necessary for The Hunger Games protagonist.

Let Me In Chloe Morentz Hunger Games Director Gary Ross Talks Casting Jennifer Lawrence

In regards to an older actress playing Katniss, Ross said:

“First of all, I talked to Suzanne extensively about this. Suzanne saw every single audition. And not only did Suzanne not have an issue with Jen’s age, she felt you need someone of a certain maturity and power to be Katniss. This is a girl who needs to incite a revolution. We can’t have an insubstantial person play her, and we can’t have someone who’s too young to play this. Suzanne was incredibly adamant about this. Far from being too old, she was very concerned that we would cast someone who was too young. In Suzanne’s mind, and in mine, Katniss is not a young girl. It’s important for her to be a young woman. She’s a maternal figure in her family. She’s had to take care of Prim, and in many ways her mother, since her father’s death. She’s had to grow up pretty quickly.”

There’s no doubt there are plenty of parallels between Katniss and Lawrence’s portrayal of Ree in Winter’s Bone. However, another criticism levied against Ross’ choice has to do with Lawrence’s ethnicity – as it has been hinted, in the books, that Everdeen is multiracial. Only two months back, casting rumors suggested that True Grit star Hailee Steinfeld, who is not only fourteen but also part-Filipino, was in the running for the part.

Ross downplayed the notion that Katniss’ race has any significant bearing on her journey in the books, focusing on other characters that he and Collins felt needed to possess a concrete cultural identity:

“Suzanne and I talked about that as well. There are certain things that are very clear in the book. Rue is African-American. Thresh is African-American. Suzanne had no issues with Jen playing the role. And she thought there was a tremendous amount of flexibility. It wasn’t doctrine to her. Jen will have dark hair in the role, but that’s something movies can easily achieve. [Laughs] I promise all the avid fans of The Hunger Games that we can easily deal with Jennifer’s hair color.”

katniss everdeen Hunger Games Director Gary Ross Talks Casting Jennifer Lawrence

There’s no doubt that the casting of Jennifer Lawrence will certainly alter The Hunger Games story a bit – however, as we mentioned in our article, Should Hollywood Listen to Fanboys About Comic Book Movies?, die-hard fans need to understand that, while a director wants to stay true to the source material, they’re also in charge of making sure that the film isn’t just a good adaptation – it’s a great movie that will appeal to a much larger audience than just fans of the books. In this case, that must have meant resisting the temptation to show a bunch of young-looking teens slaughtering each other on the big screen in a PG-13 movie.

While it’ll be interesting to see how Gary Ross intends to keep the horror of the main story – teenagers fighting to the death – intact (despite Lawrence being older); however, fans of the series might want to calm down and, instead of being angry, celebrate that a talented actress like Lawrence is excited about the role. As she’ll undoubtedly be able to bring the requisite, but chilling, character balance Katniss deserves.

Follow us on Twitter @benkendrick and @screenrant and let us know what you think of the Jennifer Lawrence casting as well as the director’s reasoning.

The Hunger Games is currently eying a March 23rd, 2012 release date.

Source: Entertainment Weekly

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  1. This makes me more comfortable with this casting! great article! :)

  2. I’ll just hope for the best – this book series is one of my recent favorites and I can only hope Hollywood doesn’t mess it up with the starring role. I wonder who will play Peeta?

  3. Too much people are crying about the role. Jennifer Lawrence is young enough in my opinion, she can play a young adult perfectly, literally. If you watched Winter’s Bone, I literally thought she played an adult because of her attitude, but she was a teen. Anyway, she can easily look like her. It’s not hard, the skin might be, but the hair is so simple. Stop complaining die hard fans, I read all three books months ago and I happen to be a huge fan. I’m not complaining, Jennifer is talented, unlike some of the rumored casting choices.

  4. Correction: The country in the book is called PANEM, not Parem

    • mcdowe,

      Ugh… I *hate* when mistakes like that sneak through. Thanks for letting us know – fixed.


    • Ya, thanks for the catch mcdowe04 – my fingers must not have been in tune with my head.

  5. when I first heard that Jen was cast in the film, I was VERY apprehensive about it. I wanted Hailee Steinfield for the part. But, after reading this article, I am happy!

    Let’s just see what will happen in 53 weeks (1 year and 1 week)!!!

  6. I wanted Hailee because I wanted real children playing these roles to make them authentic. But after reading about Jennifer Lawrence I want her to be good and I’m still excited about this movie. Just please choose the right Peeta! No Alex P. (because he’s an arrogant pretty boy and the ultimate anti-Peeta) and no Hunter P. because he’s shorter than her and they wouldn’t look good together. The choice of Peeta will make or break this movie!

    • I totally agree, because these are the two most important characters, and they have to look good together. You can’t have a guy who totally fits all of the physical characteristics who can’t act, or overacts, or just can’t pull it off. Some of the suggestion’s for Peeta’s role that I’ve seen just sort of make me angry, because they are not right at all if you consider the actors’ previous performances. They need an actor who at least fits the physical requirements loosely-can’t cast around the blue eyes-but can also play a sensitive yet strong and kind character. The choice of Peeta will make or break this movie, and I hope us fans won’t be disappointed.

  7. Finding the perfect girl to cast Katniss Everdeen is essential, and this article made me very comfortable with the decision. I can’t wait to see what Lawrence does with what she is given! Makes me wonder what happened in the audition room that stunned everyone so much–hope to see that come to life on the screen! My only comment: I hope too much doesn’t change from the original story. Changing a book to fit the screen is OK in moderation. But change it too much, and you’ll lose countless fans. I understand not wanting to show teenagers slaughter each other on screen, but Hunger Games isn’t a family book, and should not be made into a family movie. Change what you have to, but leave the rest alone. Other than that, congratulations and I hope the movie is a big success!

  8. She has the perfect eye-color for Katniss!

  9. Honestly I never pictured someone like her as Katniss but if she can look good as a brunet then I’m happy either way.

  10. @Jen Actually Peeta is described as stocky and shorter than Katniss in the books …

  11. Come on, cast Peeta! I wanna know who’s playing him! I do think he should be a natural blonde though, and you can’t really cast around those blue eyes. I’m OK with Jennifer Lawrence because of her performance in Winter’s Bone. She was believable as a 16 year old. If you can overlook the hair, which isn’t an issue, you’ll realize that it’s character that counts.

    • she was 17/18 when she filmed winter’s bone. now she is 20 but looks as if she were 25. I hope for some miracle they find a younger actress that is really like katniss. not just physically, but mentally and emotionally mature. see page 355 of the hunger games book. anything can happen in hollywood 😉

  12. she was good in winter’s bone, but then again she filmed that when she was 17/18 years old. come on, right now she’s 20 years old, but look like she’s in her mid 20s. Don’t you guys think it would have been more interesting seeing an actual mentally/ emotionally mature 16/17 year old portray katniss? i think this would have been very interesting mostly because if an actual 16/17 year old portrayed her, we would get to see this literally unknown actress transform on screen. what do you think?

  13. i agree with {unknown1}. i wonder if it’s possible to recast the lead? you know, like they did with nicole kidman in the Monte carlo movie? or like when carey mulligan had already signed with the stoker movie, but was replaced by mia wasikowska (mia was originally going to play a supporting character, but i guess casting directors saw she was more like the lead, so they put her as the lead.)The one hope i have is that hopefully, if there is a girl out there that auditions for a supporting character,actually makes casting directors of the hunger games realize that they have casted the wrong person for katniss. rememeber,katniss is, mentally/emotionally mature, but not physically and still a young, innocent girl. not a curvaceous, statuesque woman who looks like she’s in her mid twenties.

    • The one hope i have is that hopefully, if there is a girl out there that auditions for a supporting character, but actually fits the character of katniss, actually makes casting directors of the hunger games realize that they have casted the wrong person for katniss. rememeber,katniss is, mentally/emotionally mature, but not physically and still a young, innocent girl. not a curvaceous, statuesque woman who looks like she’s in her mid twenties.

  14. I think Gary Ross is the wrong director for The Hunger Games. Lionsgate, please consider a director who has the ability to create the beauty, darkness, and graphic violence that the story requires. Gary Ross is a good storyteller, but he hasn’t shown himself to have an eye that is visually unique. How about David Fincher?

  15. Please make Liam Hemsworth peeta! He’s perfect, there’s no one else better than him